For various reasons I’m a bit behind with posts at the moment and trying to catch up! The fact that this is a long-ish post doesn’t really help. Monday June 24th was the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Solferino, the climax of the Second War of Italian Independence and an event which led to the founding of the International Red Cross organisation and the drawing up of the Geneva Convention. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the war was fought between the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and France on one side and the Austrian Empire on the other.
Since I already had an Austrian army in 20mm scale, and the first units of my French army for the Franco-Prussian War, I thought it was maybe worth having a go at wargaming the battle on its anniversary. I made that decision near the beginning of the year though and I knew I didn’t have enough troops ready to have a decent game. Those of you following my blog recently will probably now realise why some of the posts have included French Turcos and chasseurs, Sardinian infantry (I did call them Piedmontese, but Sardinian seems to be the term more often used – please don’t confuse them with the small fish you buy in tins) and, finally, a mad panic to make a couple of Italian buildings!
Since there wasn’t an opportunity to arrange for an opponent for this game I decided to play it myself – I’d thought about asking my wife to take charge of the French while I managed the Austrians, but that would just have led to a complete and utter Austrian defeat in less than an hour, so I didn’t bother with that option! I set the game up on Sunday 23rd June and played a couple of moves and finished it off on Monday 24th June, the actual anniversary of the battle. The rules were the “Wargaming 19th Century Europe” set by Neil Thomas and, since doing my Paraguayan War armies last year, I had enough unit bases for all of the troops I used. I’ve recently tweaked these rules to add in HQ, supply and rocket units (the Austrians used rocket batteries) so I was keen to see how everything worked.
The Austrians (shown above) were mainly 1:72 plastics from Waterloo 1815, with dragoons by Irregular Miniatures and artillery limbers converted from Newline Design American Civil War items. There were six infantry battalions, one dragoon regiment, two gun batteries and a rocket battery. All of these were rated as “regular”, the infantry armed with muzzle-loading rifles and the artillery with smoothbore weapons.
The French (shown above) were a bit of a mixed bag collected over the years, firstly for gaming the Boxer Rebellion, then the Sino-French War of 1883-85 and now in the process of being fleshed out for the Franco-Prussian War. Figures are a mix of plastic and metal. The core of the force were three tirailleur algérien battalions (commonly called Turcos), with an added chasseurs à pied battalion and backed up by two artillery batteries and a regiment of mounted chasseurs d’Afrique. The infantry were armed with muzzle-loading rifles and the artillery with bronze rifled muzzle-loaders (the latter proving to be much more capable than the Austrian smoothbore artillery). All were rated as “elite” and both infantry and cavalry were permitted to charge enemy units even if they were outnumbered (representing the elan of these units and their willingness to close with bayonet and sabre). A token Sardinian force was provided by a line infantry battalion, rated as “elite” but armed with smoothbore muskets – these were at a disadvantage in a firefight against the Austrians but had better morale. The French also had a single HQ element, which allowed units in close proximity to move further and gain close combat and morale benefits.
I laid the battlefield out on a 6 feet x 4 feet table, leaving it reasonably open to allow units to move around. Using these rules, woods, buildings and roads all have effects on movement and combat, but the other scenery scattered about is there just for show (the trees mounted on larger bases of broken ground count as woods – the trees can just be lifted off to let troops move through them, leaving the bases to show that units are in woods). In the picture shown above, the Austrians held the villa at the top right at the start of the game, with the French and Sardinians advancing from the right in force. The more numerous Austrian forces arrived piecemeal throughout the game from the left of the picture.
The French started off by making a rapid advance and assault on the villa, forcing out the Austrian defenders and then picking off the survivors (the photo above shows the French in the process of launching their attack on the villa. The picture below shows the Austrians just after they’d been ejected from the villa).
The Sardinians covered the left flank and the chasseurs d’Afrique the right. The Austrian response was a bit slow, with only their dragoons infiltrating through the woods on the French right and starting a firefight with one of the Turco battalions (it turns out dragoons shouldn’t enter woods according to the rules, but I’d forgotten that and it didn’t really make any difference anyway).
At this point I’d normally have let the French consolidate their position and fend off any Austrian attacks with artillery, but that would just have ended up as a slogging match! So I opted to adopt French aggressive infantry tactics and attack (see above picture, French advancing from the right), and that was a big change to my more usual Austrian defensive mindset! The idea was that the better allied morale should carry them through against the slightly more numerous Austrians gradually arriving on the battlefield. While a Turco battalion and the chasseurs d’Afrique held the right flank, Turcos, chasseurs à pied and the Sardinians charged up the centre, supported by artillery and spurred on by the French command element. The Sardinians ejected the Austrian infantry from the wood in the centre, the Austrians breaking and running while their artillery was forced to unlimber and come into action in an attempt to halt the French.
At this point the Austrians managed to bring some of their infantry into action and, after a bitter struggle the Sardinians gave way and routed. Although the chasseurs à pied eliminated one of the artillery batteries, the Turco battalion supporting them was charged in the flank by an Austrian assault column and smashed! Things started to get messy at this point, the French command element coming under fire and having to order the chasseurs d’Afrique into a charge that stabilised the position (but at the loss of the cavalry unit).
By this time both armies were battered and decided to break off the action (in the real battle a massive thunderstorm forced an end to the action, which was a bit spooky because in 2019 we were also having some heavy rain that evening)! The wargame Austrians had more strength but the French still had their artillery so it was probably quite difficult to work out how it might have gone if it had continued.
I very rarely play a wargame on my own but I enjoyed this, particularly because I left the game up overnight and managed two evenings worth of combat. The rules are simple but seem to give the right feel to combat – you have to carefully soften up targets with artillery before charging home with infantry, and cavalry should only be used as a last resort to plug gaps! Although I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do on my French and Prussian armies for the 150th anniversary of the Franco-Prussian War next year, I’m quite looking forward to trying to get some more 19th Century games in. In fact, I’ve added some rules tweaks and new units to let me try out these rules for Boxer Rebellion games – that now means I need to catch up with getting some figures ready for that and it’s just a complete coincidence that next year marks the 120th anniversary of that conflict! Honest!